Reviewing the special-edition Apollo 8 Speedmaster watch
By James Stacey / BLOOMBERG
The closing words of Pink Floyd’s seminal work The Dark Side of the Moon say, “There is no dark side of the Moon really, matter of fact, it’s all dark.”
Truth is, by the time those words were recorded for that 1973 album, mankind had seen the dark side of the Moon some five years earlier.
The crew of Apollo 8, which launched on Dec 21, 1968, were the first to lay eyes on the far side of the Moon, and in honour of the first time that humans circled the Moon, Omega created a special Speedmaster hybrid called the Moonwatch Apollo 8 Dark Side of the Moon.
It was one of the brand’s premiere novelties at Baselworld 2018, and Omega endeavoured to make a special edition that actually seemed special. So, while we may know the ceramic case and general layout of the Dark Side of the Moon Speedmasters, the Apollo 8 goes the extra mile with a very cool lunar-inspired dial treatment and a non-standard movement selection, along with some special finishing and further nods to the Apollo 8 mission.
Launched 50 years ago last month, Apollo 8 carried astronauts James Lovell Jr, Frank Borman II and William Anders from Earth around the Moon some 10 times, and then back home. The second manned spaceflight in the Apollo programme, Apollo 8 saw not only the dark side of the Moon, but also Earthrise (as famously captured by Anders on Christmas Eve, 1968). This was an iconic moment in space travel and helped to prove the viability of putting a man on the Moon.
While Apollo 11 gets much of the general mindshare, Apollo 8 ventured into the unknown void of space for the first time (it was the first manned spacecraft ever to leave Earth orbit) and it’s hard to overstate what was accomplished on this mission. Thus, it’s a fitting inspiration for a special Moonwatch.
Apollo 8 is almost cool enough to make me forget that we’re here to talk about a watch. With the Moonwatch Apollo 8, Omega started with the Dark Side of the Moon we already know; so the case is full black ceramic and 44.25mm wide.
While certainly a wide case size, the 12mm thickness of this hand-wound model is well matched by a lug to lug length of 49mm, making the Apollo 8 big, but entirely wearable on my seven-inch (17.78cm) wrist.
Where the case is shared across the Dark Side of the Moon family, the dial and movement are what set the Apollo 8 apart from its siblings. The Apollo 8 has a semi-skeletonised dial that carries a laser illustration of the Moon’s surface along with an open view of a portion of the chronograph movement underneath.
Flip the watch over and you’re treated to an unexpected view: A wide sapphire-covered display case back highlights the Apollo 8’s use of Omega’s Calibre 1861 hand-wound chronograph movement. With bridges finished to match the lunar-like details of the dial, this 1861 is a mix of dark textures, purple jewels, and the varied brightwork of metal cams and wheels.
While Omega commonly uses a more modern and advanced co-axial movement in the Dark Side of the Moon watches (typically the automatic Calibre 9300), the use of a legacy Speedmaster movement (with its trio of subdials) is a fun nod to the Speedmaster Professional as the original Moonwatch and I think the 1861 looks really cool with this dark contrast finishing.
This is an interesting way for Omega to produce a modern model that salutes both Apollo 8, and the brand’s history with the Apollo programme, all while making a watch that is a hybrid of several stages of the idea of a Speedmaster — its past, its legacy and its modern context in one kinda strange, but definitely cool watch.
This watch is about the dial, the use of the 1861 in a Dark Side case and the special finishing of that movement for this one application. A strong use of texture and colour makes it hard to convey exactly how the dial appears in person, so I suggest focusing on the included photos to get the best possible view.
In a design that easily could have come across as goofy or even cartoonish, Omega manages to keep the texture subtle enough to function as the backdrop of the dial, while also detailed enough to demand a closer look.
Legibility remains very strong, especially for the chronograph elements, which get the bulk of the bright yellow colouring. The dial is surrounded by a Speedmaster-appropriate marker set, and surrounding the dial is a ceramic tachymeter bezel that is also fully lumed (one of my favourite things about the Dark Side of the Moon line).
The level of dial detail and contrast is remarkable, especially as it is implemented without taking away from the roots of the Speedmaster design. In fact, at first glance, one could be forgiven for assuming this is a motorsports model, given the bright yellow accents and matching strap. It all comes together to feel distinctive and special, even as a Speedmaster.
On the back, ahem…far side, of the Apollo 8, you get a great view of the 1861 movement.
While I established above that the 1861 is not as technically advanced as the 9300 common to the Dark Side line-up, it is arguably both cooler and a more interesting (and Moonwatch-nerd specific) choice for the Apollo 8.
Surrounding that lunar-effect finishing is a case back that reads “We’ll see you on the other side”, a quoted radio transmission from Jim Lovell before Apollo 8’s communication was blocked by their path around the Moon.
The matching leather strap has yellow stitching and perforations, and a sort of rubbery feel that I found quite comfortable. While seemingly stiff at first, the material conforms nicely and feels better than your standard leather strap, even among those at this price point.
Big on the wrist, but not hard to wear, the Apollo 8 hides some of its bulk with a shorter than- you-might-expect lug to lug length and a relatively flat profile. In normal lighting, the ceramic looks quite shiny, but the dial is a blend of matte finishes and the Apollo 8 feels more detailed than any of its Dark Side siblings.
While something of a tough watch to compare against others on the market, one has to assume some of the natural competition will be other Speedmasters, both Dark Side of the Moon models and otherwise.
Interestingly, with a list price of US$9,750 (RM40,073), the Apollo 8 is considerably less expensive than a standard Dark Side of the Moon, which retails for more like US$12,000.
This likely comes down to the somewhat niche appeal of this specific model, and the use of a less expensive movement (the 1861 versus the Co-Axial 9300).
In considering competition, I’d say it’s hard to develop a value for the Apollo 8-ness of the design. If you’re really into the idea, it’s a plus; if you want a Dark Side (or even just a ceramic chronograph) then the Apollo 8 aspect is likely a non-starter. The truth is, there is some real competition in ceramic chronographs these days.
Options include the the IWC Top Gun in ceramic which costs US$10,900, Tudor’s Fastrider Black Shield is substantially less expensive at US$4925 and it’s hard to overlook Zenith’s new Defy chronograph at US$12,200. The list doesn’t end there either, with options like Tag Heuer’s Carrera Heuer 01 in full ceramic at US$6300, or models (competing and otherwise) from Audemars Piguet, Hublot and more.
Really though, while I love a good this-or-that comparison, and I can see the case being made that one might cross-shop Omega’s standard Dark Side of the Moon line up with some of the above competition, I doubt that the same stands to reason with the entirely more niche proposition of the Apollo 8.
If you want a Moonwatch, you’re already into Omega, and if you’re digging the Apollo 8, then you’re into one of the brand’s more esoteric offerings and it’s hard to imagine direct competition.
While its intended audience is definitely a subset within the broader Speedmaster contingent, from a product level there is a lot to like about the Apollo 8. Omega took an already successful platform in the Dark Side of the Moon, and then went to great lengths to make it something insider-specific and fun.
From the eye-catching and well-executed dial design to the inclusion of a proper (and specially finished) Moonwatch movement, the Speedmaster Moonwatch Apollo 8 Dark Side of the Moon is an interesting blend of old and new Omega that comes together with a specific charm and appeal.
While the previously mentioned Pink Floyd lyrics were perhaps speaking of the unknown and undiscovered dark side within all of us, Apollo 8 was true exploring. They picked a spot on the map that they didn’t know or fully understand and devised an audacious and bold plan to see it for themselves.
Apollo 8 was a seminal post-war moment, as it changed the rubric of possibility; it adjusted the horizon in a way that I think is hard to fully grasp if, like me, you are too young to have witnessed it as it happened.
As Omega’s ties to space travel have become more of a historical footnote than an active programme, watches like the Moonwatch Apollo 8 are collector items that function as fun reminders of that exciting era. While many past Apollo special editions were based around Speedmaster Professionals, it’s hard to think of a more fitting home for a tribute to the mission that first saw the Dark Side of the Moon. — Bloomberg